It’s currently banned for human consumption in Australia but the fight to legalise industrial hemp as a food crop is gaining momentum.
Health experts from around the world have hailed hemp as a nutrient-rich mind food, yet Australia remains the only developed country in the world that bans it as food.
If an Australian café were caught serving a humble hemp seed it could face a $200,000 fine. This is despite the fact Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has established that industrial hemp contains negligible amounts of the mind-altering chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and have cleared it from having any negative effects on the human body.
Matt Stapleton, the secretary of the Industrial Hemp Association of Queensland, believes the Australian Government has failed to “keep pace” with the rest of the world when it comes to legalising the plant.
The hemp industry’s recent application to have industrial hemp approved for human consumption took four years to process, and was rejected by the Forum on Food Regulation (FOFR) committee because, it argued, legalising the plant might complicate law enforcement drug testing as well as confuse people about the safety of cannabis.
Mr Stapleton said the forum lacked evidence to back its claims. “The A1039 application was a specific application for industrial hemp foods and not for high THC marijuana or even medical cannabis,” he told The Newsroom.
He said the FOFR committee had appeared to confuse cannabis varieties to suit their end objectives, suggesting the government was looking favourably at a synthetically produced product so it could keep control of usage rates and profit from pharmaceuticals.
“The current policy by government to refuse human consumption of industrial hemp foods contradicts the trials announced for medical cannabis by government.”
A spokesperson for Queensland Health Minister, Cameron Dick, did not wish to comment on Mr Stapleton’s claims but said Queensland would be an active participant in the NSW trial on medicinal cannabis: “Queensland Health is currently in discussion with their NSW counterparts to collaborate on research design and establishing a process for Queenslanders to participate in the trials.
“We are looking to commence trials in 2016 and as details are finalised, further updates will be provided to the public.”
Mr Stapleton believes industrial hemp can help relieve the current burden on the health sector, claiming it can be used for the treatment of various illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. He says natural industrial hemp is available now and should be exploited.
Jessica Bailes, an accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist based in Sydney, is in favour of legalising industrial hemp and believes it has the potential to improve the lives of many Australians.
“Hemp isn’t banned because of its nutritional factors, but rather a poorly constructed law banning foods related to cannabis, rather than the active ingredient,” she said.
Ms Bailes explained that hemp contained useful quantities of many vitamins and minerals which could reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, bowel cancer and diabetes, as well as possessing a healthily balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids, vastly superior to a standard Western diet.
Celebrity doctor Mehmet Cengiz Oz has claimed “hemp seed is the next big thing for your memory”. Dr Oz, as he is affectionately known, explained on a recent episode of his TV show that bad fats create holes in your “metaphorical mind net” which prevent individuals from gathering memories when they try to remember something recent.
He said the high amount of omega 3 and other good fats in hemp seeds helped rebuild damaged brain cells, while keeping memories sharp.
Ms Bailes said hemp was also a great source of protein, with each tablespoon of hemp seed containing 11 grams of protein. This compares to one large egg (6 grams of protein) and one cup of full cream milk (8 grams of protein).
Ms Bailes says hemp seeds taste like a cross between sunflower seeds and pine nuts and therefore could be easily added to daily diets by stirring into yoghurt, baking into muffins or sprinkling on top of salads.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation is set to reconsider legalising the consumption of hemp in the first quarter of 2016.
Advocates for industrial hemp say if hemp were legalised for human consumption in Australia it would pave the way for a multi-billion dollar industry on the North coast of Australia. – Charmaine Perry
Top photo from Edward the Bonobo’s Flickr photostream.